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Situation in Bangladesh

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Refugee Agency, as of the end of March 2023 there were nearly 961,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Almost all of these refugees are settled in refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh, forming the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Muslim Rohingya refugees first began fleeing into Bangladesh in August 2017 to escape an outbreak of violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar.

According to an overview of the current humanitarian situation (PDF) published by the OCHA, the UN’s humanitarian agency, including the over 500,000 members of the host communities living alongside the Rohingya, there are 1.52 million people in need as part of the Rohingya humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh.  

2023 Joint Response Plan

A group of humanitarian agencies, led by the Government of Bangladesh, have produced a 2023 Joint Response Plan (JRP) for tackling the Rohingya humanitarian crisis over the next year.

The JRP lists five strategic objectives for tackling the crisis (the Bangladesh Government prefer the term forcibly displaced nationals from Myanmar (FDMNs) to refugees):

  • Work Towards the Sustainable and Voluntary Repatriation of Rohingya Refugees/FDMNs to Myanmar.
  • Strengthen the Protection of Rohingya Refugee/FDMN Women, Men, Girls, and Boys.
  • Deliver Life-Saving Assistance to Populations in Need.
  • Foster the Well-Being of Host Communities in Ukhiya and Teknaf Upazilas.
  • Strengthen Disaster Risk Management and Combat the Effects of Climate Change.

The JRP also references the Bangladesh Government’s plan to relocate 100,000 Rohingya by the end of 2023 to a new settlement on Bhasan Char, an island in the Bay of Bengal. There are currently 75,000 refugees settled there. Concerns have been raised that the island is flood-prone, remote, and that some refugees have been resettled against their will.

Return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar

The first of the five JRP objectives focused on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees, and particularly the timetable for their return and under what conditions, has been a particular source of contention due to the situation in Myanmar.

Following the February 2021 military coup in Myanmar, civil war has broken out in the country, and the Myanmar military have continued to carry out abuses against the civilian population and ethnic minorities in particular. Aside from a decade-long peace process between 2011 and 2021, the Myanmar military has been fighting ethnic armed groups for most of the period since the country became independent in 1948.

In March 2023, Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the UN’s Human Rights Committee that the Rohingya community remaining in Myanmar “continues to face widespread and systematic discrimination in every area of life”, and that “the necessary conditions for voluntary, safe and dignified returns of refugees to Rakhine State simply do not exist”.

In the same month, Human Rights Watch called upon Bangladesh to halt a pilot scheme aiming to repatriate around 1,000 Rohingya to Myanmar, claiming “lives and liberty may be at grave risk”.

In preparation for the pilot scheme, representatives from Myanmar’s military Government visited the settlements in Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh’s Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mizanur Rahman, told the news agency Al Jazeera that the Myanmar delegation did not have the power to commit refugees to a possible repatriation date.

Mr Rahman said that repatriation is the “only possible solution” for the Rohingya refugees, adding “They are their citizens, they have to take them back”.

UK aid spending

The UK Government has provided £350 million in aid to support the Rohingya in Bangladesh since 2017. Between 2017/18 and 2020/21, bilateral aid was highest in 2019/20, at £112.4 million.

To 6 March 2023, the UK had provided £15 million to the Rohingya response during 2022/23.

Total UK bilateral aid to Bangladesh has fallen over this period, from £241 million in 2019/20 to £190 million in 2020/21. This reflects wider reductions in the UK aid budget.

Bilateral aid is that given for a specific programme or purpose. The UK also provides funding to multilateral funds such as the Global Partnership for Education, International Committee of the Red Cross, and the World Bank that are supporting the Rohingya.

UK bilateral aid has focused on providing immediate humanitarian assistance such as food, water, sanitation, shelter, and protection services to Rohingya refugees and vulnerable host communities.

Under the Rohingya Response and National Resilience Programme, since 2021 the UK has also sought to shift towards supporting a longer term response, through helping to improve the resilience of vulnerable communities to disasters and securing livelihood opportunities to improve the self-reliance of refugees.

The FCDO acknowledges that bilateral aid has fallen as part of wider reductions in UK aid spending. In February 2023, the Department said the UK remains committed to working with the UN and Government of Bangladesh to support the Rohingya while they remain in Bangladesh. The Government also says it has prioritised lifesaving assistance.

In March 2023, the FCDO announced an additional £5.26 million in aid, the majority of which will be distributed through the World Food Programme.

Full spending plans for 2023/24 have not been announced.

Response to UN appeal, 2023

In March 2023 the UN launched a joint response plan for Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi host communities, with a call for funding of US$876 million to reach 1.5 million people in need.

According to the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs Financial Tracking Service, the appeal is currently 15% funded (US$130 million). The UK is the third largest donor, pledging US$6.4 million. The US and Japan are the largest donors, pledging US$97.8 million and US$17.8 million, respectively.

In February 2023, the World Food Programme said a gap in funding had caused it to reduce its General Food Assistance voucher value from US$12 to US$10 per person per month from March. It warned further reductions would follow if funding was not raised “immediately.”

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